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Posted on June 11, 2017

It Comes at Night: Do You Open the Door?

Dawn

2017                R                     USA                Trey Edward Shults                91 mins.

I’ve been anticipating Trey Edward Shults’s It Comes at Night since I first saw the preview, and it does not disappoint. Indeed, the film exceeded all my expectations. Shults’s second feature film (his first, Krisha, won the Grand Jury Award at South by Southwest in 2015) is a brilliant exercise in building tension: every encounter, every conversation, every shot induces anxiety and dread. The performances of all the actors are superb (especially Joel Edgerton as Paul and Kelvin Harrison, Jr. as his son Travis). Each character pulls you in, making you feel their distinctiveness, making you feel for and with each of them. It Comes at Night, moreover, is unambiguously a film of our historical moment—and it should, and will, prompt conversations about what it’s saying about immigration and borders (open or closed) in 2017.

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Posted on May 17, 2017

Why You Should Watch Hammer’s The Plague of the Zombies

Dawn

If you haven’t watched the 1966 Hammer film, The Plague of the Zombies (John Gilling), you should. Much of it is fairly standard Hammer fare—set in the nineteenth century, stagey dialogue, filmed on artificial sets—but it has moments of real power, and it’s an important entry in the zombie tradition.

The Plague of the Zombies is a crucial link between the zombie revolution that was about to hit the screens two years later—in George A. Romero’s 1968 classic, Night of the Living Dead—and the zombie films of the 1930s and 1940s, which drew up Haitian lore and in which zombies were mindless bodies under the control of an evil (white) man.

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Posted on April 22, 2017

Phoenix Forgotten

Dawn

PG-13                80 mins.             Justin Barber           USA         2017

I loved Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s The Blair Witch Project when it first came out in 1999, and I’ve remained a staunch fan ever since. That interest has spilled over onto the found-footage subgenre of horror more generally, and I’m willing to forgive a lot (Why is she still filming what’s going on?) to see what  directors can offer in the way of innovation. Sometimes I’ve been pleasantly surprised: Paranormal Activity (Oren Peli, 2007), Paranormal Activity 2 (Tod Williams, 2010), Willow Creek (Bobcat Goldthwait, 2013), Creep (Patrick Brice, 2014), and The Break-In (Justin Doescher, 2016) are all worthy horror films. I was excited, then, to hear about Phoenix Forgotten, directed by Justin Barber and written by Barber and T. S. Nowlin and released on April 21, 2017. Found-footage horror was at the theater again—and previews looked promising. Phoenix Forgotten seemed self-consciously to recognize its famous 1999 antecedent, with the billboard prominently featuring three missing teens. Could this be the film to re-create what Myrick and Sánchez accomplished almost twenty years ago?

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stalking
Posted on April 17, 2017

Wait Till Helen Comes Review

Elizabeth

TV-14      87 mins.          Dominic James               Canada                2016

Despite themes ranging from suicide to mental illness, Wait Till Helen Comes is ostensibly a horror film geared toward the PG set. Drawing heavily from its source material, Mary Dowling Hahn’s 1986 YA classic of the same name, the film deserves credit for trusting its audience to follow a somewhat complicated narrative structure. While there have been some exceptions, most notably the brilliant Lady in White(1998), horror films marketed toward younger teens have often relied upon jump scares and gross out shock scenes to move the plot. For example, the moment when the witches peel off their human masks in The Witches (1990) or when the maggot covered meat is revealed in Poltergeist (1982). Wait Till Helen Comes does the complete opposite. It is slow moving and picturesque with a sensibility that is more implied horror. And the end result is a very mixed bag. Read more

Posted on February 26, 2017

An Oscars Guide for the Horror Fan; It’s Short!

Dawn

I have a very broad definition of horror, which is why this (very short) list about the 2016 Oscars exists at all. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, true to form, ignored the many exceptional horror films of 2016, most egregiously The Witch (Robert Eggers), Don’t Breathe (Fede Alvarez), Under the Shadow (Babak Anvari), and Train to Busan (Yeon Sang-ho). All of which were brilliant.

That said, let’s move on to what we have rather than gnashing our teeth about the sorry taste in film of Academy members

All three of these films are categorized on IMDb as neo-noir, drama, or thriller—not horror, but there is a long tradition of shying away from calling horror “horror”—and there are veritably thin borders between horror and some of its adjacent genres.

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